Connect with Kids and Families This Summer!
A MiddleWeb Blog
Students who know and feel known by their teachers are more likely to work hard, behave well, and be open to new ideas.
Similarly, families who feel connected to the school are more likely to support the school’s mission and teachers. We work all year to build and nurture relationships with our students and their families. Why stop over the summer?
Below you will find simple, low stress ideas to stay connected to students and families in the summer months.
A big part of staying connected is just being present in the community. Just seeing and being seen.
In the early 2000s I taught in remote Yupik and Inupiat villages on the Bering Sea Coast of Alaska. The villages were accessible only by airplane and the residents ranged from the school-aged children I served to elders who spoke no English and had never travelled further than a mile or two outside of their town.
My first year in this unique environment, I was lucky to have a mentor who told me the following story.
Years ago, I learned a valuable lesson about what it means to be seen in the village. I lived on the other side of the beach across the village from school. So every day I walked the half-mile lane from my house to work. When the district build new teacher housing, right next door to my classroom, I moved in. Not long after, I was at the town hall at a community dance and an elder approached me. She only spoke Yupik and I only spoke English, so we communicated through her granddaughter, who was my student.
“She wants to know why you never visit her anymore,” my student translated. I was confused, I had never visited her house, I thought maybe she had me mixed up with another teacher, most of whom were not Yupik. My student clarified, saying, “She means when you used to walk by her house every day. She wants to know if you don’t like seeing her anymore.” I realized that to her, just seeing me walk through town mattered very much. She felt she knew me and that I knew her.
I have often thought of that story and have used it as a reminder that being in the community is important. To that end, I try to do regular business in the same neighborhood where I teach. I have to go to the bank, fill up the car, walk the dog, and grocery shop, right? Why not do it where the students and families I serve might?
Share on Social Media!
If you don’t live in the town where you teach or otherwise don’t want to hang out in your students’ neighborhoods, you can still see and be seen. Try social media. In my neck of the woods, people are on Facebook, which means so am I, and I am one thumbs-upping gal. I post pictures, make short videos, and ask questions. I also take a few minutes each day to look at what others post and “like” and comment.
It is amazing how big an impact a social media presence can have. Families are comfortable with me and I am comfortable with them (Here’s our school Facebook page, which I oversee. Check out some of the fun and sharing going on!)
After a summer apart, on the first day of school, I am able to ask students about how that trip to Yellowstone was or how their sick uncle is feeling. Folks put their life out on Facebook, and I am grateful for the ways in which it helps me connect. Read more about how I use Facebook to foster mutual support and understanding between the school and the community at large here.
Set up a meetup or two. Meetups are easy to plan for and fun. They are as simple as putting out an invitation to folks to meet you at a chosen location. In June and July, for example, I often post messages on Facebook, like the examples below.
Hey SCF Peeps! I’ll be at the SCF Public Library on Friday from 4:00-6:30 just hoping some of my students and families will stop by and hang out with me! Let’s chat, check out books, and have a little fun! See you then!
Friday night! Music on the Overlook! Be there or be square! Hoping to see lots of Saints dancing the night way. (FYI: I teach in St. Croix Falls and we are the SCF “Saints.”)
Share a Meal!
If you’re so inclined, it is equally easy to facilitate a somewhat more formal get together. Have a potluck in the park. Again, this is as easy as sending out an invitation. I was the school librarian for the last eight years and now am the new school principal. that means my “class” is over 400 students. But, with online texting tools and Facebook, it is easy to reach a large swath of families.
Like many communities, we have a lot going on in the summer from fairs to festivals to farmer’s markets to city-wide garage sales. These are days when many families plan to stay in town and enjoy the events. This summer I plan to reach out to folks about a potluck picnic in the park during one of them. It it goes well and it’s fun, I’ll try another one!
Flip the Fun on Flipgrid!
If you haven’t tried Flipgrid yet, you must! Here is how the website describes its free product, “Flipgrid is where your students go to share ideas and learn together. It’s where students amplify and feel amplified. It’s video the way students use video. Short. Authentic. And fun! That’s why it’s the leading video discussion platform used by tens of millions of PreK to PhD educators, students, and families…”
Make a free account and try using it to stay connected to your students. I promise you, it is incredibly easy. Users click a huge green plus sign to add a video and a huge talking bubble to respond to another user. After you get your account, follow the steps below.
◊ Make a new “grid” and call it “How’s summer going? Whatcha doin’?”
◊ Record a video of yourself
◊ Give students and families the URL and code for your grid
◊ Watch the magic happen!
The topics for chat are endless. Ask about what your students are reading, how summer jobs are going, the funniest thing that has happened to them, where they are going on vacation, how much they miss you, anything!
Try my grid to see how it works. You will need this passcode: Summer2018!. Tell me what you’re up to this summer and I’ll chat back with you! You will be amazed at how easy and fun it is to use!
Do Home Visits!
I freely admit, this one’s not for everyone. Maybe not even me. But lately I’ve been inspired by middle school principal Beth Houf of Lead Like a Pirate fame. Houf and her assistant principal, or “cocaptian” as she says, do home visits to each of their incoming sixth grade students. That floors me and makes me want to do more to connect with my own families.
NPR did a nice story on home visits and their lasting impact here, and Teaching Tolerance offers a Home Visit Checklist that is helpful. If you’re not ready for home visits, try calling incoming students for a quick hello. Even if you just leave a message, it will set the tone for positive and open interaction for the rest of the year.
Happy summer to all in the business of teaching and learning! I hope you stay connected to your students and families, but even more I hope you get some rest, recharge, and have a little fun! You deserve it!
If you have questions about any of this, please ask them in the comments…I’ll be sure to answer.